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The Canadian government borrows from both the British and American models of government, to create an unusual system at the head of their country. Like America, it uses a system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, yet its executive branch is headed by the monarch of Great Britain, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Including both democratic and parliamentary models, Canada’s government is truly unique to the needs of its people.
The head of Canada’s executive branch is the king or queen of the United Kingdom, entrusted with powers over the legislative and judicial branches. Historically, this position is honorary rather than enforced, though should they decide, the monarch could assert considerable power over Canada. As they are geographically quite far apart, the monarch appoints a Canadian governor-general to oversee the executive powers. Although the executive branch typically bows to the will of parliament and the constitution, it does so by tradition rather than law.
The governor-general appoints the prime minister, who is the head of the federal Canadian government. The prime minister is almost always chosen from whichever party holds a majority in the house of commons, however if no party holds a majority, they are usually appointed from the party with the most members. Though the prime minister cannot be removed from office, the House of Commons can pass an act of no confidence in the government, which will generally result in the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet.
The legislative branch of the Canadian government is bicameral, meaning it has two houses of legislative power. The appointed house is called the Senate, and members are selected by the governor-general with the advice of the prime minister. The elected section of legislative government is called the House of Commons, and is chosen by democratic election procedures every five years. Though in theory both branches are roughly equal in power, the House of Commons generally wields the most power in the Canadian Government and introduces considerably more bills to Parliament.
Canada’s federal judicial system oversees all criminal law, as well as maintaining a Supreme Court appointed by the governor-general. Civil law is monitored using the principles of British common law, except in Quebec, where a French code is followed. The Supreme Court consists of nine judges, and is used as a “last resort” court system, when a case cannot be adequately completed by lower courts.
The constitution of the Canadian government was created in 1867 as an Act of the British parliament. In 1982, the constitution was amended to give Canada political independence from Great Britain, although the monarch still retains executive powers. Additionally, the 1982 amendment contained an outline of political rights and freedoms for citizens, similar to the ten-part Bill of Rights that begins the American constitution.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of government does Canada have?
Canada operates under a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. This means that while the sovereign (Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor General) is the head of state, the actual direction and governance of the country are carried out by an elected Parliament with the Prime Minister at its head. The Canadian system is characterized by a division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, as outlined in the Constitution Act of 1867.
How is the Canadian Prime Minister chosen?
The Prime Minister of Canada is not directly elected by the general population. Instead, the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons during a federal election. The Governor General typically appoints the leader of this party to become Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then forms the government, appointing other members of parliament to the Cabinet.
What are the main components of the Canadian Parliament?
The Canadian Parliament consists of three parts: the monarch (represented by the Governor General), the Senate, and the House of Commons. The House of Commons is composed of Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by the public in their respective constituencies. The Senate is made up of Senators who are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. These bodies work together to create and pass legislation.
How does the federal system divide powers in Canada?
In Canada's federal system, powers and responsibilities are divided between the federal government and the provincial governments. According to the Constitution Act of 1867, the federal government handles national and international matters, such as defense, foreign policy, and trade, while provincial governments have jurisdiction over areas like education, healthcare, and transportation. This division is designed to accommodate the diverse needs and interests of Canada's regions.
What role does the Governor General play in the Canadian government?
The Governor General of Canada acts as the representative of the monarch and carries out various ceremonial duties. While the role is largely symbolic, the Governor General does have some important constitutional functions, such as giving Royal Assent to legislation passed by Parliament, which is required for a bill to become law. Additionally, the Governor General can dissolve Parliament and call a general election on the advice of the Prime Minister.